The Buffalo Bills’ defense has been inconsistent throughout the 2015 season as they’ve transitioned to Rex Ryan’s hybrid 3-4 defensive scheme. Some players throughout the front seven that were productive in Mike Pettine and Jim Schwartz’ defensive schemes that were based on 4-3 concepts haven’t been able to replicate that success in their new roles. So, going into the offseason and most notably the 2016 NFL Draft, it’s likely that the team will look to acquire defenders that fit the archetypes for the positions needed for Ryan’s system to thrive. Today, we’ll take a look at Clemson safety Jayron Kearse.
Previous Prospect Breakdowns
Jayron Kearse is a physically imposing strong safety that stands 6’5” and weighs roughly 230 pounds. Coming out of high school, the nephew of Jevon Kearse was ranked as the No. 15 overall athlete by Rivals and the No. 7 overall linebacker prospect. In three years with the Clemson Tigers, Kearse has recorded 162 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, seven interceptions, 11 pass breakups, five forced fumbles and seven quarterback hurries.
With the emergence of big, hard-hitting, “in the box” safeties like Kam Chancellor, Deone Buchanan and George Iloka proving to be impact defenders, Kearse will intrigue teams due to his size alone.
Jayron Kearse is an inconsistent player, especially when defending the run. For a safety of his stature, he leaves a lot to be desired in regards to his physicality when taking on blockers and filling gaps. When he has a clear path to the ball-carrier, Kearse displays excellent closing speed and a physical, down-hill mentality as you can see in the following play, where he’s lined up at the top of the screen.
However, there are too many times where he’s reluctant to take on blockers and will look uninterested in getting involved in the action—often times “waiting” for the play to come to him, rather than look to make a play. Additionally, he regularly takes poor angles to the running back, resulting in missed tackles and unnecessary extra yardage gained.
While inconsistent, he does show flashes of the potential impact he could have as a run defender, as the following play shows. Coming downhill, Kearse is able to disengage from a block and make the tackle.
Jayron Kearse is an athletic safety with great closing speed when moving downhill, but in coverage he doesn’t show the sideline-to-sideline lateral movement skills you want to see from a defensive back. In the Tigers’ defense he typically plays in a deep centerfield role where his downhill ability is best utilized, but when he’s playing in two-high looks, it’s clear that he has a lot to work on.
Kearse is often slow to react to different route combinations and will get beat across the face often, especially on post or in-breaking routes.
As he does against the run, Kearse can be hesitant to run through ball-carriers in the passing game as well. In the following clip, Notre Dame throws a crossing route over the middle and short of the sticks. Kearse gets in position to make the tackle, but allows the receiver to set him up before gaining the first down. This goes back to wanting to see better instincts out of a big-bodied safety like this.
Now when Kearse playing deep, he’ll deliver devastating blows to receivers that come across the middle. Here, Kearse is playing single-high against Notre Dame’s “11” personnel. The pressure forces the play to break down and the scrambling quarterback needs to find a receiver in a short zone. Kearse anticipates the target and delivers a huge blow. These are the kinds of plays that set the tone in the secondary and make receivers think twice about turning their backs to a deep safety.
Kearse is often used in the box as a blitzer where he’s pretty effective. In the following play, Kearse is used on a delayed blitz, where his acceleration and closing speed is shown off as he sacks the Syracuse quarterback.
Here, he’s blitzing from a high safety position and his power is put on display as he knocks the Notre Dame right guard to the ground.
Jayron Kearse is an intriguing player due to his size and potential, but when watching him, there isn’t much that really stands out and makes you see a defensive force like a Kam Chancellor. He’s a stiff athlete, so he’ll be limited in what he can do schematically and it seems like he doesn’t give 100% effort on every down. If the play isn’t to his side of the field, he simply gives up.
Here, his lack of aggressiveness worked in his favor, as he recovered a fumble as a result of being 15 yards away from the play.
Potential Fit with the Buffalo Bills
Jayron Kearse is a Clemson product, and we know Rex Ryan and the Buffalo Bills’ affinity for Tigers in recent years and he does fit a position of need, as the team’s safety group is average and banged up. If Ryan sees Kearse being used as the third safety or the “box” guy, then Kearse would be a solid fit within the defense. But, if he’s being asked to play in the two-high, cover two/ quarters coverages the team frequently used, I can’t see Kearse being a productive player due to his lack of anticipation and understanding of route concepts, in addition to his average lateral agility.
Player Comparison: George Iloka